Actors Killed Lincoln
Actors Killed Lincoln is a folk-punk band. But not the folk you’re thinking of. (Probably not the punk either—they’re punk in spirit, but not strict genre adherents.) Rather than drawing on the American folk traditions of, say, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Actors Killed Lincoln uses the sounds and rhythms of Eastern European folk music, like Balkan dance music and Gypsy music. The band is as likely to play a waltz or a 2/4 polka beat as they are a standard 4/4 rock beat.
The instrumentation also borrows from Eastern European music. Many of the band members double on a variety of instruments: Alan Lyons plays violin, mandolin and banjo. Vocalist and songwriter Kent Irwin plays guitar, keyboards and banjo. Matt Kaminski plays bass and cello. Busy utility player Zachary Rees has the longest list: sax, clarinet, trombone, trumpet, banjo and accordion. Drummer Ian Jenkins stays on the drum throne, which is good because he’s quick and precise.
The band members come from a variety of musical backgrounds—from punk rock to small jazz combos and even the University of Nevada, Reno’s symphony orchestra.
There are indeed a lot of instrumental colors, and the band members say they often stand out on bills where the other bands have more traditional rock ’n’ roll guitar-drums-bass configurations. However, that said, Actors Killed Lincoln is most definitely a rock band. The music is high energy, the drums are often fast and loud, and the sounds appeal to that deep-seated reptile part of the brain that gets amped by rock. Irwin sings in aggressive, occasionally guttural but never unmelodic voice. And the songs are actual songs, with verses and choruses, and the lyrics are full of drinking references, angry questions and disturbing narratives—rock stuff.
In “Shotgun Mouth Man,” for example, Irwin sings, “I loaded my gun like a Pez Dispenser/I held it to my mouth like I did when I was a boy/And when the time came for me to bite down/On a candy, a bullet, lost love or the sound/Turned around hit the ground/And slipped right into the void.”
“It’s a true story until I fictionally kill myself,” says Irwin of the song’s lyrics.
More often than not, Lyons’ violin takes on the role of lead instrument, often building up to frenzied, glissando, devil-beating, hot fiddle action.
Despite the heavy Eastern Europe influence, none of the band members are from that region—they’re just drawn toward those sounds. Lyons is from Ireland, and there is a strand of Celtic music in his playing as well. His brother, Daniel Lyons, an accordion player and former member of the band, is in Ireland currently, and will rejoin the ranks when he returns stateside.
The band has had name troubles in the past. An earlier lineup was called The Bo Deens, the members not at first realizing that there’s a fairly well-known band from Wisconsin called BoDeans, which has been around since the ’80s.
“We were just three people and somebody else’s name,” says Lyons.
They’ve been Actors Killed Lincoln, with the current lineup, for the last six months, and the dramatic name fits the large, eclectic group. But, though John Wilkes Booth was indeed a stage actor, he was just one guy—an “actor” singular.
“Well, there’s a story behind that,” says Irwin. “I had a friend say, you should never date an actress … and one of the many reasons he listed is that actors killed Lincoln.”